As much as we might like the kind of bat Nick Castellanos brought to the Cubs, and indeed could project to have going forward on a competitive team that plays its home games at Wrigley Field, the fit on a return deal has always been tricky because of outfield composition.
That is to say, even if you don’t think Castellanos is quite as bad defensively as his reputation, and even if you think he could improve in right field with a little more experience (it looked like he was getting better there last year), there are still questions about the fit with the Cubs. Specifically, I am not down for using his possible contract as a reason not to bring back a well-fitting bat, I can be persuaded that it simply isn’t a good idea to build the Cubs’ outfield to go Schwarber-Heyward-Castellanos on a near daily basis. In all three spots in that arrangement, you’d almost have to be *hoping* you can get average or slightly below average defense in each spot. When that’s your hope level, that ain’t a great starting point.
Still, you just love that bat. And the energy. And the type of hungry player that Castellanos showed himself to be. Maybe an optimistic take on his defense going forward could change the conversation? Maybe guys like him frequently get a lot better with a little more outfield experience?
Well, sir, I gotta tell you. After reading Mike Petriello’s optimistic take on Castellanos, I now actually think the answer is … nah. The defensive picture, to me, looks even worse.
An article charitably titled, “Nick’s stick is solid — but his glove? Not bad either,” offers Petriello’s honest and analytical look at what you could optimistically hope for from Castellanos, defensively, going forward. And as much as Petriello couches it in positivity, I actually left the piece feeling as discouraged as ever about the fit with the Cubs.
There are absolutely nice bits in there, including Castellanos getting a lot better in 2019 (but still well below average defensively). But when you start talking about similar players at similar ages, the possibility for improvement defensively … well, it basically just doesn’t happen.
The *best* case scenarios of guys who were brutally bad into their late 20s, but then improved are Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Braun. And those best case scenarios? Ethier went from terrible to slightly below average for a few years, and then solidly below average until he was finished. Kemp went from brutal to merely bad for a couple years, and then right back to brutal. Braun went from abysmal to solidly below average for the rest of his career. That’s the best of the bunch, and he was in an entirely different tier of hitter.
In other words, maybe Castellanos is extremely unique, and he’s about to become a passable defender in right field for a number of years. But the history of guys like him? It just doesn’t happen. Instead, the best you could realistically hope for is that instead of being borderline unplayable, he has now made himself a good bit below average for the next four or five years.
Is that bet worth it for the Cubs? When half of the market includes teams that could take that bet, lose, and then put Castellanos at DH most of the time? Maybe if the Cubs had elite defenders in the other outfield spots. Maybe if the Cubs didn’t have a guy who could otherwise be elite in right field. But the more I think about the roster composition, if Kyle Schwarber isn’t going anywhere, then it is reasonable for the Cubs to decide to pass on Castellanos. (A reminder that there’s an embedded compliment of Schwarber in there.)
Read Petriello’s piece and see if you can reasonably convince yourself that Castellanos is still the right guy in right field for the Cubs for the next four years. I got discouraged.